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[WSS17] Computation Jockey: Teaching and DJing the Computational Universe

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Computation Jockey


As a full-time 7th grade teacher in Buffalo Public Schools, I am engaged in the task of getting youth interested in Computational Thinking. One thing many of my students have in common is that they can relate to Hip Hop or DJ culture. Computation Jockey starts with the concept of DJ (disc jockey) and VJ (video jockey) but extends the scope of range to include all data in the computational universe, not just audio or video. Since Wolfram language has so much breadth in the type of data that can be integrated within it and interfaced together, this seems like a good choice to try to use to spring such a campaign.


Prior to the 2017 Wolfram Summer School, I had presented on the idea of Computation Jockey quite a few times. Below are some highlights:

Computation Jockey has been well received at all of these talks and so I decided to improve upon the original concept for the 2017 Wolfram Summer School and build on the buzz.


As my visions are grand for the ultimate potentials of a fully-developed CJ system, I had to choose just one manageable part to complete in the 3-week Wolfram Summer School.

It was decided to focus on the AKAI Professional APC40 MIDI controller as a further proof of concept This controller was chosen because it has been used in the field of professional DJ culture for many years and has many physical manipulables such as 110 press buttons, 10 sliders, and 17 turn-knobs. Integrating MIDI has long been a challenge as the MIDI protocol for control signals is not currently recognized natively in Mathematica and Wolfram Language. Summer School instructor Vladimir Grankovsky was instrumental in giving me advice that instead of trying to use J/Link and java libraries, I might try to connect through RS-232 Serial Protocol. For this we had to install the Hairless Midi<->Serial connector in order to make the raw MIDI usb signals from the controller readable to Mathematica, then we also had to use ELTIMA software's Virtual Serial Port in order to send the signals as a useable COM port: Note that ports are doubled so if you send MIDI to COM3 in Hairless then you need to read from COM4 in Mathematica.

Finally, we had to parse the signals being sent from the controller. When listening to the COM port in Mathematica we saw that each button or control knob sent at least three variables to be parsed. The first number had to do with where the button/slider/knob is located (ie the group), the second number is related to which exact button in the group it is and they are grouped by sequential numbers, and the other digits for sliders range from 0-127 as a range while press buttons specify whether they have been pressed or "released".


CJing Julia Set Fractal

We set up two modules: One for Julia set fractals and one for elementary cellular automata. For Julia sets we can use sliders to effect: real axis of Julia seed, imaginary axis of Julia seed, "zoom", x axis offset movement, y axis offset movement. For elementary cellular automata we use sliders to effect: rule number and number of iterations. Both Julia sets and elementary cellular automata can have the display enlarged using another slider for aid in display on connected monitor. We switch between the two "modules" using button presses.

We also have the VGA output from the computer converting to analog video in order to use video processing including: Kaoss Pad Entrancer video jockey (vj) controller, a Roland V-4 video mixer (which can "feedback" on itself), and a Dave Jones MVIP color processor powered through a Doepfer Eurorack A-100 power system.

Here is a link to a video of trying out the system:

Computation Jockey Youtube Demo


Following the success of this development project, we will continue to develop and improve upon the CJ interface. We will work on connecting more types of control interfaces such as vinyl turntables. More types of visualizations will be explored for interfacing with. More dynamical systems will be explored. Interface for 3D such as UnityLink and VR could be explored. AI assistants could be programmed to "fetch" mathematical systems, functions, etc through speech recognition. This paradigm will be explored in museums for STEM outreach shows and in classrooms as an education tool as well as promoted within academia for dynamical visualization. Ultimately, it would be nice for youth to be able to "compete" in STEM/STEAM related artistic CJ demonstrations at major venues such as stereoscopic IMAX theaters across the world, possibly powered by "high-end" CPU or GPU systems.


This project has demonstrated the potential for using DJ control devices as a tool for manipulating Mathematica code in real-time. The potentials of MIDI controllers has been demonstrated, with their benefits being:

  1. that such controllers are frequent on the market and available in a variety of price ranges
  2. that our midi interface is relatively fast for realtime manipulations
  3. that such controllers routinely feature more buttons, sliders, and knobs than are available on most other control interfaces

In conclusion, there is great potential in using MIDI controllers in order to interact with Mathematica visualizations. This could be used:

  1. As an educational tool allowing students to dynamically interact with Mathematica
  2. As a tool for academics to visualize mathematical concepts for experiment or exposition
  3. As a platform for STEM outreach shows (such as at museums, schools, or planetariums)
  4. As a platform for controlling multimedia art (such as video art or vj/video jockey performances)

The Computation Jockey (CJ) revolution has begun!

If you are interested in the code and trying it yourself, here is a link to the GitHub for this project with files and documentation:

I like to thank my advisor/mentor Matthew Szudzik for his time and advice, as well as all the other staff and students at the 2017 Wolfram Summer School.

Great presentation today, very interesting and exciting topic!

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